Eden Center. What can I say? After my first visit, a month after arriving in Northern Virginia, it is my new happy place. It’s where I can find everything from gorgeously decorated pandan cake to Korean barbecue. Those two alone are more or less everything I need to survive, but there’s so much more to discover.
One example: It didn’t even occur to me that I’d be able to get banh cuon or banh uot in NoVA. But really, I shouldn’t have been too surprised. It’s almost impossible to stump the restaurant gods here.
And so it was that I wandered into one of the alley-like back reaches of one of the indoor portions of Eden Center and came across Banh Cuon Thang Long. It was time to sink my teeth into some rice rolls.
My favorite protein for the slippery entrée is thit nuong, or barbecue pork. If you’ve ever had a Vietnamese vermicelli bowl filled with pork, you know the assets of the lightly sweet, charred meat. At Thanh Long, it’s only available with banh uot, not banh cuon, (which aren’t so different to begin with—my research could only turn up differences in fillings) so my decision was made.
Not long after my table was graced with one of my favorite drinks, soda da chan muoi—a funky, salty limeade full of chunks of preserved lime—the banh uot arrived too. The tender, slick little blankets of rice roll arrived in empty twists, waiting to be filled with whatever I chose from among the toppings. This included not just pork and bean sprouts (the basics), but also pickled carrot and daikon slaw, slices of fresh cucumber and a haystack of greens, everything from rau ram (Vietnamese mint) to skinny shaved scallions.
The server brought along chile sauce, which I mixed liberally in my nuoc mam, the sweetened fish sauce that gives rice rolls much of their bright, sweet flavor. These burned brightly, but benefited most from the garden-fresh ingredients. The dish was what Vietnamese food should be: of-the-moment ingredients, prepared simply. Actually, that’s what all food should be.
The first of many meals at my new happy place was a success. // 6757 Wilson Blvd., Suite 22, Falls Church
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